Operators of the Seabrook nuclear power plant warmed the reactor for its first low-power testing, but opponents planned to turn up some heat of their own with a new round of protests.
"The confrontation must come now. It's never been more important," said Paul Gunter, a founder of the Clamshell Alliance anti-nuclear group and veteran of its first sit-in at Seabrook 13 years ago. "Thirteen years of opposition have made the issues crystal clear, and now is really a testing time, both for the plant and the opposition."Operators began heating the reactor Saturday in preparation for the first atomic chain reaction, expected within seven to 10 days. The test will be the biggest milestone yet for a plant that is a decade behind schedule, billions of dollars over budget and a focus of the nation's anti-nuclear movement.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission gave Seabrook a low-power license Friday, the day after a federal appeals court refused to block the tests.
Meanwhile, demonstrators have been meeting with local and state police to make final plans for a rally Saturday and civil disobedience Sunday. Some activists plan to try to climb fences surrounding the plant.
Edward Brown, president of New Hampshire Yankee, which operates the plant, said the planned demonstration will not affect the testing.
But critics say the protests will be an important indicator of the depth and perserverance of public opposition to Seabrook as the $6 billion plant enters the last stretch of its protracted licensing struggle.
"I think it's real important to show the political leadership in this state there is real concern about this project, and they're ignoring it at their peril - and boy, are they ignoring it," said Robert Backus, who has worked as a lawyer for 17 years for groups opposing the plant.